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Question Everything, Not Just the Alternatives

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If you want to go to college and still be accepted by your family/friends, you don’t need a good reason for attending. The world will gladly accept your decision and praise you for it without the slightest bit of scrutiny.

If you want to pursue an alternative, however, get ready for the most intense interrogation of your life because people will finally begin to care about all sorts of questions they’d never dare pose to a college student or college administrator.

I work with lots of college opt outs and I love when their family and friends ask me questions about every imaginable scenario for a life without a college degree. It’s the most fun part of my job because I can never predict what the questions will be. I always learn something new about what people really want, what they’re afraid of, and where their concerns come from. It’s an enriching and enlightening experience every time.

But then I cry when the conversations are over because I know that those same questions will not be asked about thousands of people who choose college without having any ability whatsoever to rationally defend their decision against the kinds of counter-arguments that opt-outs have to deal with. And to be quite honest, I like that opt-outs get challenged from every possible angle by parents, professors, and peers. They don’t need to be sheltered from the tough realities that come with making unconventional decisions. It’s good for them.

But when it’s all said and done, education isn’t going to change because of the arguments people make for alternatives. It will change when people start asking the same questions about the status quo that they instinctively ask when confronted with the stuff they don’t know.

Keep challenging the opt-outs. Keep challenging the people who don’t believe that college is right for them. Keep challenging those who believe the times are changing and that education is bigger (and sometimes better) than traditional schooling. Don’t ask less questions, ask more questions. And when you’re ready to get really philosophical, turn those questions around and pose them to yourself, your friends, and all the people in your life who who don’t make you uncomfortable with their career choices. Because that’s when the revolution will truly get started.

There Are No Safe Books

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My favorite catchphrase from the TV show X-Files is “Trust No One.”

This idea is far less cynical and antagonistic than many suppose. It doesn’t mean “treat everyone like a con artist who’s out to get you.” It simply means “refuse to accept anything as true or good merely because of the person who initially informed you about.”

It’s an admonition to weigh everything you’re told against your own judgment. If something feels wrong, looks shady, or sounds illogical, then you need to think critically about it. Common sense, right? Yes, but it goes further than that. Critical thinking isn’t just for the stuff that seems shady. It’s also for the stuff that doesn’t have any obvious red flags. In fact, it’s the non-obviousness of red flags that makes critical thinking necessary in the first place.

One of my favorite things on the Internet is when someone mentions a book they’re reading and someone else issues a warning like “Hey, be careful when reading this particular author because his views on X are debatable.”

It makes me wonder: Do these people believe there are books out there that you *don’t* have to think carefully about when reading?
My favorite variation of this is “Hey, what should I do when I’m reading a book that has some good stuff in it, but I have issues with some of the other stuff?”

Wait…since when was this a special problem posed by a single category of books? Shouldn’t we have a few issues with every single piece of content we ever consume? Does the reading experience sometimes *not* involve learning how to separate the wheat from the chaff?

Kafka said it best: “If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

The problem is not that we put on our thinking caps when dealing with new, strange, or unorthodox sources of information. The problem is that we’d ever think to take off our thinking caps at all.

Every source of information is dangerous if you don’t think critically and creatively about how you apply it in your life. Books are like fire: powerful, useful, nourishing, illuminating and utterly capable of destroying you if you turn your brain off and dive in.

From the New York Times bestsellers and the peer-reviewed academic titles to the self-published and the shoulda-never-been published, be careful with all the books. Nothing is safe….especially if it’s good for you.

Trust no one. Think for yourself instead.

How to Know What Really Matters to You

I don’t want to know what you would do if money were no object. I want to know what you will do when money actually is an object. I don’t want to know how you react when things are free. I want to know how you react when things are expensive.

I don’t want to hear about what fires you up. I want to see what sustains you when you’re the one who gets tossed into the fire. I don’t want to know what you stand for. I want to know what makes you stay in the ring when life knocks the wind out of you.

I don’t want to know about your passions. I want to know about your priorities.

Passion is about what turns you on, what fires you up, and what makes you come alive. Priority is about what you do when life forces you to choose between convenience and conviction.

It’s a useful exercise to contemplate what you would do if your actions didn’t cost you anything, but that will only get you to the starting line. If you want to make it to the finish line, don’t just find something fun to do. Find something that’s worth doing even when it’s not fun or free. Don’t just think about what you would say “yes” to if you knew you could have it all. Think about what you would fight for if you knew it would cost you everything.

The latter will tell you much more about what really matters to you.

Where’s the Beef?

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Two brief quotes from two separate friends:

Quote #1: “As a hiring manager, Chik-fil-a was always a slam dunk. Everyone I ever hired who had worked for them was awesome.”

Quote #2: “It’s better to have to answer “100 happy meals” than “nothing yet, but..” to the question “What have you actually made and shipped?”

In my post on the Praxis blog entitled Four Reasons to Stop Despising Your So-called Menial Job, I wrote the following:

Business is not the art of playing dress up. Business is the art of solving other people’s problems or satisfying other people’s desires in a way that’s unique enough to make them willing to pay you for the services/products you provide. If you’re doing those things, you are involved in the business world. If you’re not doing those things, you’re not involved in the business world. Yes, you may have designed pretty business cards. Yes, you may have built a cool website. Yes, you may have dubbed yourself the CEO of Me, Me, & Me. But until you have something to sell and someone to sell it to, you’re just playing a game of dress up.

A person who puts in a hard and honest day’s work at McDonald’s is much more involved in the world of free enterprise than someone who calls themselves an entrepreneur without actually doing anything that creates value for customers. When you look down on menial work, it makes it easier for you to fool yourself about this kind of stuff. The moment you buy into overly romantic ideas about what it means to do business, you start to see yourself as successful based on superficial things that have nothing to do with customer service and revenue generation.

There are thousands of hard working people at places like Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s who walk around with their heads hanging low because they’re comparing themselves to some guy who calls himself an entrepreneur and who takes pictures of himself “working” on a laptop at the beach. I don’t hate the guy who takes pictures of himself working at the beach. I hate the fact that people are hating on themselves because they think they need to be *that* guy in order to be successful.

There are people who are ashamed of anything in their employment history that doesn’t look “entrepreneurial” or “freelance.” And when these people create resumes and go to job interviews, they try to hide the fact that they flip burgers for a living because they mistakenly believe this says something negative about them. They would rather talk about business ideas that they haven’t even executed than discuss the empirical evidence of character that their 3 years at the pizza parlor might indicate.

Here’s a take from my colleague Derek Magill:

There’s a ton of noise out there right now. The temptation is to join in on the noise because everyone seems like they’re successful and having the time of their lives and you’re being left out. The vast majority are total nothings. So much can be faked today but you can’t fake doing your job consistently well. You don’t need a vlog or a side “hustle” or a social media following or some accolade like “20 under 20” (LOL), or “most influential youth entrepreneur” or a 1 sentence per line viral Linkedin status.” Just do your job.

Derek is advocating substance over style here. Back when I was a kid, there was a Wendy’s commercial campaign call “Where’s the Beef.” There were these three older ladies staring at an empty looking sandwich asking “Where’s the beef?” They saw the outer trappings of a burger, but there was no substance to it. This is what the world of entrepreneurship is at the risk of becoming.

If you’re working at a fast food job, here’s my message to you: You da real MVP!

Anyone can stay at home and try to get rich on the internet without ever having to deal with the complexity of real human interaction, but you’re the ones who know what it’s like to serve customers when those customers are difficult to serve. You know what it’s like to smile at people and treat them with respect not because you’re positive, but because you’re professional. You know what it’s like to maintain composure even when people treat you like crap. Anyone can talk smack about following their passion, but you know what it’s like to show up and work hard even when you don’t feel inspired to do so. Everybody is tolerable when working for themselves. But you’re the ones who know how to be pleasant to work with when you have to be accountable to something other than your own preferences. Anyone can talk about their side hustle or their personal brand, but you’re the ones who have an empirically verifiable track record of making things happen and keeping your word when other people are relying on you.

Being a self-proclaimed entrepreneur is the new status quo. The rebels of today are those who know how to do something for a customer in an environment where they’re expected to be consistent day in and day out even when the work doesn’t feel entrepreneurial.

Here are some wise words from Gary V in an article entitled Stop Asking Me About Your Personal Brand, and Start Doing Some Work:

For the first decade of my professional career, I kept my damn mouth shut. Seriously, go and Google it. You won’t find a single piece of content from me that pre-dates WLTV. So what the hell was I doing? I was working. It stuns me that people keep asking about how to start a personal brand; how to be a “YouTube personality” without having a clear understanding of what comes before that, which is actually knowing something about something. It’s this notion that is so prevalent right now, which is that you can just come out of nowhere and build your brand through various tactics.

So this new quick hack of using social media and modern tech to build up your brand isn’t enough. It just isn’t. There is no substitute for honest hard work. You have to earn the privilege of building a “personal brand”, and the only way to do that is to actually execute.

Some people are great to grab a beer with, but horrible to go to battle with. If I’m grabbing a beer, I want to go with the person who has a TEDx talk about how much he travels. If I’m going to battle, I want to go with the person who hustles his or her butt off at Taco Bell for a couple of years. Give me a co-worker or employee who’s held down a fast food job for 1 year over any of these “CEO of Me” types with fancy titles, pretty business cards, millions of vague ideas, and zero evidence of even knowing how to take out the garbage for longer than a month.

“Being entrepreneurial” is just like “being creative.” It sounds impressive to people who are addicted to attending conferences, but it means absolutely nothing apart from the willingness to show up and get things done.

You want to get ahead in life? Do your job and do it with pride….even if it’s fast food. Professional freedom isn’t the by-product of your label, it’s the consequence of your mindset and your work ethic. Wherever you are, show up and get things done.

A Quick Question About That Brilliant Idea You Have

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What’s so good about it if you’re not acting on it?

This is not only a question for artists, entrepreneurs, and other people who identify themselves as doers. It’s also for philosophers, thinkers, visionaries, and self-proclaimed “idea guys.” If you truly find a concept to be fascinating, why not create space in your life to play with it, to experiment with it, to see where it takes you when you combine it with a little initiative? If you’re really moved by an idea, then why aren’t you actually moving?

Why settle for saying “I have a bunch of good ideas” when you can share those ideas with the world?

Critical thinking isn’t just about what you think. It’s about what you’re committed to creating. And being creative isn’t just an ontological state. It’s a pragmatic function. You only get to *be* a creative person when you *do* creative work.

Don’t just believe in your ideas. Bet on them.

I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more: Dreams don’t come true. Decisions do.

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